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Pretoria gets ready

Heribert Adam, 9 July 1987

Black and Gold: Tycoons, Revolutionaries and Apartheid 
by Anthony Sampson.
Hodder, 280 pp., £12.95, January 1987, 0 340 39524 9
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The Crisis in South Africa 
by John Saul and Stephen Gelb.
Zed, 245 pp., £6.95, December 1986, 0 86232 692 3
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... appeal. Where Sampson wants to make the ‘revolution as bloodless and manageable as possible’, John Saul is primarily concerned with its socialist outcome.* His account deals with familiar instances of repression and resistance, which he tends to romanticise as only foreign sympathisers can. It smacks of condescension when a tenured Toronto academic ...

The Road to Independence

David Caute, 21 November 1985

Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe 
by Terence Ranger.
James Currey, 377 pp., £25, October 1985, 0 85255 000 6
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Guns and Rain: Guerrillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe 
by David Lan.
James Currey, 244 pp., £19.50, October 1985, 0 85255 200 9
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... that Zimbabwe’s road to independence has been neither a carbon copy of Kenyan capitalism nor, as John Saul and Basil Davidson inferred in the late Seventies, an inferior version of Frelimo-style socialism in neighbouring Mozambique. According to Ranger, the disparaging depictions of Zanu and its military wing Zanla were based on unavoidable ...

Bad Character

Andrew O’Hagan: Saul Bellow, 20 May 2015

The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-64 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 812 pp., £35, May 2015, 978 0 224 08467 3
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... On​ his deathbed, Saul Bellow asked a question of himself that he might have asked at the time of his first novel and his first marriage: ‘Was I a man or a jerk?’ You could say it’s a good question for anyone to ask, especially someone who wrote 18 books and had five wives. Next to Norman Mailer, who did equally well on the spouse-mongering front, Bellow was a worker of slow, monkish application, always tied, seldom happily, to a university department, and agonising over a book ...

International Tale

John Banville, 30 March 1989

A Theft 
by Saul Bellow.
Penguin, 128 pp., £3.95, March 1989, 0 14 011969 8
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... here might be that of Henry James. This is a surprise. It is a long time, forty years or so, since Saul Bellow abandoned the Flaubertian tradition and decided to break out, to let rip (‘I am an American ...’). The result was an extraordinary gain in vigour. What other novelist in our time has produced work to equal in sheer strength such books as The ...

The Moronic Inferno

Martin Amis, 1 April 1982

The Dean’s December 
by Saul Bellow.
Secker, 312 pp., £7.95, March 1982, 0 436 03952 4
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... and Pig Bodine (where the effect is slangy, jivey, cartoonish); at the other end of the scale, John Braine offers us Tom Metfield, Jack Royston, Jane Framsby (can these people really exist, in our minds or anywhere else, with such leadenly humdrum, such dead names?). Saul Bellow’s inventions are Dickensian in their ...

They don’t say that about Idi Amin

Andrew O’Hagan: Bellow Whinges, 6 January 2011

Saul Bellow: Letters 
edited by Benjamin Taylor.
Viking, 571 pp., $35, November 2010, 978 0 670 02221 2
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... with self-concern, and we will often see this distinguished person most clearly in his letters. Saul Bellow knew the type very well and we meet one of them in the shape of Moses Herzog, the eponymous hero of Bellow’s sixth novel, a helpless, epistolary nutcase who yawps as if his nappies were as heavy as his brain. As long as I was Mady’s good ...

Diary

Ian Hamilton: It's a size thing, 19 September 1985

... and he needed almost no encouragement at all to play his queen-wasp act right to the limit: Oh, Saul Bellow is a nothing writer. He doesn’t exist. Tell me one book of Saul Bellow that’s in any way memorable, even a chapter that’s memorable. I’ve always liked ‘Henderson the Rain King’ for one. Oh ...

John and Henry

Christopher Reid, 2 December 1982

The Life of John Berryman 
by John Haffenden.
Routledge, 451 pp., £15, September 1982, 0 7100 9216 4
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Poets in their Youth: A Memoir 
by Eileen Simpson.
Faber, 272 pp., £10.95, September 1982, 0 571 11925 5
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... When John Berryman’s first full-length collection of poems, The Dispossessed, was published in 1948, Yvor Winters wrote a notice of it for the Hudson Review. Here Winters drew attention to Berryman’s ‘disinclination to understand and discipline his emotions’, and went on to suggest: ‘Most of his poems appear to deal with a single all-inclusive topic: the desperate chaos, social, religious, philosophical and psychological, of modern life, and the corresponding chaos and desperation of John Berryman ...

Thinking Persons

John Ellis, 14 May 1992

Addressing Frank Kermode: Essays in Criticism and Interpretation 
edited by Margaret Tudeau-Clayton and Martin Warner.
Macmillan, 218 pp., £40, July 1991, 9780333531372
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The Poverty of Structuralism: Literature and Structuralist Theory 
by Leonard Jackson.
Longman, 317 pp., £24, July 1991, 0 582 06697 2
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Inconvenient Fictions: Literature and the Limits of Theory 
by Bernard Harrison.
Yale, 293 pp., £25, September 1991, 0 300 05057 7
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Reading Minds: The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science 
by Mark Turner.
Princeton, 298 pp., £18.99, January 1992, 0 691 06897 6
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Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics 
by Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson.
Stanford, 530 pp., $49.50, December 1990, 0 8047 1821 0
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... honour. Three of the contributors do, however, engage Kermode’s thought in a fairly serious way: John Stokes, George Hunter and Patrick Parrinder. Two ways of doing so were possible. Either Kermode’s general view of the critic’s task or his ideas concerning specific texts or groups of texts could have been the focus of attention. Stokes and Hunter choose ...

The Unstoppable Upward

James Wolcott: ‘The Life of Saul Bellow’, 24 January 2019

The Life of Saul Bellow: Love and Strife, 1965-2005 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 864 pp., £35, November 2018, 978 0 224 10188 2
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... In​ autumn 2000, the critic, memoirist and biographer James Atlas brought forth a Life of Saul Bellow that augured to be the literary event of the season, a crowning glory for author and subject. Bellow: A Biography was Atlas’s highly anticipated successor to his wunderkind biography of the brilliant, bedevilled Delmore Schwartz, whose combustible presence served as the inspiration for Von Humboldt Fleisher in Bellow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Humboldt’s Gift ...

Sour Plums

John Lanchester, 26 October 1989

The Letters of John Cheever 
edited by Benjamin Cheever.
Cape, 397 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 224 02689 5
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Mary McCarthy 
by Carol Gelderman.
Sidgwick, 430 pp., £12.95, March 1989, 0 283 99797 4
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The company she keeps 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 246 pp., £4.50, October 1989, 0 297 79649 6
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... In 1964, Time published a profile of John Cheever which, in a sub-heading, described him as ‘The Monogamist’. Subsequent events have proved that not to have been the fact-checkers’ finest hour. In 1984, two years after his death, Susan Cheever published Home before Dark, a memoir which portrayed her father, whose public image was that of an impeccably upper-middle-class monogamist suburban WASP, as a promiscuously bisexual alcoholic ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘The Trip to Echo Spring’, 12 September 2013

... as her study shows, it becomes a reality of its own. ‘Inspiration contained a death threat,’ Saul Bellow said in his introduction to John Berryman’s novel Recovery. ‘He would, as he wrote the things he had waited and prayed for, fall apart. Drink was a stabiliser. It somewhat reduced the fatal intensity.’ But ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Voices from Beyond the Grave, 20 November 2008

... of the recordings take the form of interviews, and the presenters don’t make matters any easier; John Lehmann, for example, speaks to Aldous Huxley as if he were questioning him with a view to offering him something at the Foreign Office. Which just goes to show that broadcasting vices existed long before the days of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross. None of ...

The Egg-Head’s Egger-On

Christopher Hitchens: Saul Bellow keeps his word (sort of), 27 April 2000

Ravelstein 
by Saul Bellow.
Viking, 254 pp., £16.99, April 2000, 0 670 89131 2
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... small yet reliable magazine Antichrist. This Ravelston – some composite of Sir Richard Rees and John Middleton Murry – was a hedonistic yet guilt-ridden dilettante, good in a pinch, and soft on poets, but too easily embarrassed by brute exigence. Saul Bellow – who has already shown a vulnerability to exigent poets in ...

Like Apollinaire

Michael Wood, 4 April 1996

Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids 
by Kenzaburo Oë, translated by Paul St John Mackintosh and Maki Sugiyama.
Boyars, 189 pp., £14.95, May 1995, 0 7145 2997 4
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A Personal Matter 
by Kenzaburo Oë, translated by John Nathan.
Picador, 165 pp., £5.99, January 1996, 0 330 34435 8
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Hiroshima Notes 
by Kenzaburo Oë, translated by David Swain and Toshi Yonezawa.
Boyars, 192 pp., £14.95, August 1995, 0 7145 3007 7
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... of Sartre and Camus, and before the Sixties became the Sixties. William Golding, Iris Murdoch, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Thomas Pynchon, who else? Oë wrote his graduation thesis on Sartre (in 1959), and evokes Camus in Hiroshima Notes: ‘A plague that ravages a city in North Africa, for example, appears as an abnormal phenomenon; but the doctors and ...

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